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Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in life. Beginning a new job, going to a new school, losing a loved one or ending a relationship are life events that can bring on anxiety. Feelings of anxiety during these times are normal. What is not normal is when anxiety takes over your life. If you lose the ability to function normally in your personal and professional life because of abnormal fears and anxiety, it is time to seek help
There are several recognized anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorders. A few of the common symptoms of anxiety disorders are fatigue, irritability, inability to concentrate, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, headaches, excessive sweating and a feeling of being out of control.
Panic disorder, or "panic attacks," can happen at any time without warning. The symptoms can mimic a heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath. Sweating and irregular heartbeat are also common symptoms. Sufferers experience an overwhelming feeling of terror and may even have thoughts of death. The attack is often unrelated to anything happening around them.
Post-traumatic stress disorder may follow a terrifying personal experience, such as a physical attack, death of a loved one or a natural disaster. Veterans often experience post-traumatic stress disorder because of the experiences of war and the culture shock of returning home afterward. Nightmares reliving the experience are common. Frightening thoughts and memories of these events persist and disrupt normal life. Emotional numbness and inability to enjoy normal activities are common symptoms.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) patients are disturbed with constant fears and compulsions to repeat certain tasks or rituals. OCD individuals may have to wash their hands a certain number of times, or repeatedly check the doors at night to make sure they are locked. The obsessions can interfere with sleep and normal daily activities.
Specific phobias can be an abnormal fear of any object or situation, such as fear of heights, fear of flying and fear of spiders or snakes. These people will go to extreme lengths to avoid encountering their fear. A person who fears auto accidents may refuse to drive a car. These extreme fears can make it impossible to live a normal life.
Generalized anxiety disorders involve continual worrying over imagined situations. Sufferers are plagued with fears of "what if," and may worry obsessively over the well-being of their family or household chores. They feel some type of worry and anxiety at all times.
If you are experiencing any anxiety symptoms that interfere with your ability to lead a normal life, consult your physician who may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist who is better prepared to treat anxiety disorders. Treatment options may include behavior and relaxation, cognitive, desensitization and medication therapies.
Behavior and relaxation therapy focuses on dealing with anxiety through methods of deep breathing exercises. You learn to take yourself mentally to a pleasant place when an anxiety attack starts to arise.
Cognitive therapy focuses on helping you to understand your thought patterns, helping you to pinpoint the causes of your worry. You may learn to differentiate between realistic and unrealistic fears.
Desensitization involves facing your fears. You are gradually exposed to your phobia at different levels. Over time, you build tolerance and gain control over the anxiety. Medication, including anti-depressants, may be prescribed in a combination with other therapies